Ad Hoc Queries Don’t Reuse Execution Plans: Myth or Fact

October 5, 2009 at 7:00 am (SQL Server 2005, SQL Server 2008, TSQL) (, , , , )

Another frequently heard story is that stored procedures get and reuse execution plans, but ad hoc queries do not. A lot of people believe this and say as much online and in the real world. Unlike my last myth, this time, I’m going to give you the DBA answer to this question. It depends.

There are ad hoc queries and there are ad hoc queries. The classic ad hoc query looks like this:

DECLARE @sql NVARCHAR(MAX), @value int;
SET @value = 43668;
SET @sql = 'SELECT * FROM Sales.SalesOrderHeader AS soh ';
SET @sql = @sql + 'JOIN Sales.SalesOrderDetail AS sod ';
SET @sql = @sql + 'ON soh.SalesOrderID = sod.SalesOrderID ';
SET @sql = @sql + 'WHERE soh.SalesOrderID = ' + CAST(@value AS NVARCHAR);
EXEC (@sql);

And as ad hoc TSQL goes, that one is actually some what clean. They get a lot worse. But, in this case, each and every time the @value variable is changed, you’re going to get a different execution plan. That’s because the full text of the query is used to determine if the existing plan will work for the new query and changing the @value variable will result in a change to that text.

However, there is another way to build and execute ad hoc TSQL. Done correctly, it will work exactly the same way as stored procedures, including plan reuse. This method is known as a parameterized query. There ways to do this through OLEDB & ODBC and there’s a way to do it through TSQL, sp_executesql. Instead of the query above, let’s examine this query:

SET @value = 43668
SET @sql = 'SELECT * FROM Sales.SalesOrderHeader AS soh ';
SET @sql = @sql + 'JOIN Sales.SalesOrderDetail AS sod ';
SET @sql = @sql + 'ON soh.SalesOrderID = sod.SalesOrderID ';
SET @sql = @sql + 'WHERE soh.SalesOrderID = @internalvalue'
SET @parm = '@internalvalue int'
EXEC sp_executesql @sql, @parm, @internalvalue = @value;

Using sp_executesql you can define parameters and put them into the query. Now, when this query is called again, you’ll see that the execution plan gets reused. As part of the comparison, I’ll also create this procedure:

(@value INT)
FROM Sales.SalesOrderHeader AS soh
JOIN Sales.SalesOrderDetail AS sod
ON soh.SalesOrderID = sod.SalesOrderID
WHERE soh.SalesOrderID = @value;

To test these queries, we’ll need to capture some trace events. Here are the ones I’ll capture:

  • SQL:BatchCompleted
  • SP:CacheMiss
  • SP:CacheHit
  • SP:CacheInsert

When all three queries are run, changing the parameter passed to @value, here is the resulting trace event output:


From the top, I ran each query in order as listed here in the article, changing the value passed once each time I called query. You first see a cache miss for the pure ad hoc query. It inserts to the cache and finishes the batch. Then, the next ad hoc query has a cache miss, a cache insert, and completes it’s batch. Proving that ad hoc queries with only a small change will restult in multiple execution plans.

Then we move on to the sp_executesql queries. They start out the same way, with a cache miss and an insert before the batch is completed. Note, the cache insert is for a different set of code than is immediately visible based on what we’ve provided. The TextData column starts with “(@internalvalue int)…” and procedes to show the rest of the query. This is the use of sp_executesql at work. It’s creating a parameterized query, effectively the same thing as a stored procedure. Then, with the second call to sp_executesql, we see a cache miss followed by a cache hit. This is the classic pattern for a successful call to the plan cache.

If you don’t trust that, the last two batches are the stored procedure. You can see that the first call to the procedure results in the same cache miss followed by a cache insert that every other first call had. The second call to the stored procedure had a cache miss followed by a cache hit. The same as the second, ad hoc sql, call to sp_executesql.

That, my friends, is plan reuse in action from an ad hoc query. Myth 1/2 Busted. Or maybe: Myth “It Depends” Busted.

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